by Nader Shabahangi, CEO of AgeSong Elder Communities and President, AgeSong Institute
In a meeting with elders a few days ago I asked the question what is good about being older. The first response from a group of over twenty elders was: discounts! Of course, in some ways this was meant as a joke. However, as Freud keenly observed over a hundred years ago, jokes are related to truths that reside deep within our unconscious. In other words, the joke contains an observation of life from which we can learn.
What is it about discounts that gives an elder, and probably most of us younger as well, a feeling of being special? Well, this is not too difficult to ponder. Discounts give us the feeling of being unique, give us a sense of reward for being part of a select group of people. In the case of elders, we might even feel that we have achieved something, reached a place in life where others, our society, feels that we are deserving of a treat.
To me there is a deep wisdom in the act of giving a discount, a special treat to an elder. Yes, it constitutes an acknowledgment of having lived a long life. But I believe there is something more fundamental behind the act of giving a discount. For through a discount, literally, our society is saying: we are giving back to our elders.
The question arises: giving back for what? What have elders done for society that makes us feel we need to give back to them?
This question can be answered from many different points of view. We can say they have been taxpayers most of their working lives and have contributed to the building and upkeep of our country. Or we can emphasize that many have had children and contributed to the growth and future of our country. Or we can point out that they have endured the difficulties and struggles of life and have not given up throughout it all. We also might emphasize that they are now grandparents and are helping the newer generations get situated and on track with their lives. Another perspective will see elders as being mentors, guides and civic elders who help steer our communities and cities with decisions based on their accumulated life-experiences and wisdom.
These are but a few of the different lenses through which we can see and value the life of our elders. We can also become even more philosophical and think, for a moment, about how many people elders have touched throughout their lives, how many people were influenced and directed by them, how much they have taught and learned, given to others in what often seem to be little but so very meaningful ways. My grandpa would have me sit on his lap many times and that feeling of being held and cared for sits deep within my being. Grandma’s loving smile is present with me especially when I need to face the more challenging moments life brings forth. All these encounters with a wise and loving elder make us who we are. They are and always will be priceless. They deserve a discount – and much, much more.
About the Author
Nader Shabahangi, Ph.D.,received his Doctorate from Stanford University, is a licensed psychotherapist, and is cofounder of AgeSong. His multicultural background has fueled his passion for becoming an advocate for marginalized groups and for creating programs with the purpose of caring more comprehensively for elders. Nader also founded the Pacific Institute, a nonprofit organization that defines its mission as one of helping elders live meaningful lives. He is a frequent guest lecturer, including presenting at international conferences focusing on aging, counseling, and dementia. Nader authored Faces of Aging and co-authored Deeper Into the Soul and Conversations With Ed.